Aspartame (NutraSweet). All the experts WebMD talked to agree that for a large majority of people with fibromyalgia, foods sweetened with aspartame could exacerbate fibromyalgia symptoms.
“There is a pain receptor in the nervous system known as NMDA,” says McNett. “When pain turns from acute to chronic, it involves opening the NMDA pain receptor. Aspartame, which is classified as an excitotoxin, helps to stimulate this event.” He also says people with fibromyalgia appear to already have overly active NMDA pain receptors, making them more susceptible to the stimulation.
In one study published in the Journal of Rheumatology in 2006, experts found patients with fibromyalgia did have an increased expression of NMDA receptors in their skin. This indicated a general increase in activity of peripheral nerves.
Kent Holtorf, M.D. says aspartame may play a role in stimulating those nerve pathways. Then he adds that for some people, “cutting it out of their diet can have a dramatic impact on pain.”
That appeared to be the case for patients in one small study published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy in 2001. Researchers found that, when patients with fibromyalgia avoided aspartame as well as the flavor enhancer MSG, they felt better overall.
Other artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, saccharin, and stevia do not appear to have the same effect as aspartame.
Side Effects of Aspartame
- Visual Impairment
- Ear Buzzing
- Altered Liver Enzymes
- Tunnel Vision
- Loss of Equalibrium
- Severe Muscle Aches
- Numbness of Extremities
- Inflammation of the Pancreas
- Episodes of High Blood Pressure
- Eye Hemorrhages
- Abdominal Cramps
- Memory Loss
- Attention Deficit Disorder